The runners gathered just after dawn Sunday on Monument Hill. The day before, on the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre, more than 500 descendents of the massacre and other tribal members had gathered here for private ceremonies on an unusually warm November morning; the good weather continued through the afternoon's speeches down below, at the headquarters of the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, which was dedicated in April 2007. The crowds were even larger this day, as hundreds of people arrived to remember -- or perhaps hear for the first time -- what had happened on November 29, 1864, when Colonel John Chivington had led 675 volunteers and regular Army troops on a raid of a peaceful camp of Arapaho and Cheyenne. As many as 200 were killed, most of them women, children and the elderly.
The crowds were smaller the next morning, although this Healing Run was the largest yet. Tribal leaders had started the run in 1999 not as a competition, but as a way to cleanse the land where their ancestors had died, a way to spread awareness at a time when Congress was just considering making this land a historic site. It would be "a ceremony that would heal the land, heal the spirits that were stuck there," said the late Lee Lone Bear.
Now, young runners and tribal elders shivered in the chill wind and remembered that the day of the massacre was also cold, that their ancestors had fled up the creek bed -- many barefoot and without blankets -- to escape the soldiers. Some survived and continued that terrifying journey until the tribes left the territory of Colorado altogether. Others were butchered by the soldiers, who took scalps and body parts as souvenirs, carrying them triumphantly back to Denver, where they put them on display in a theater in the five-year-old town.
The run follows the route that the soldiers took -- or as close as the tribes can come. For three days, members of the Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapahoe, and Southern Arapahoe and Cheyenne of Oklahoma will follow this path, holding tribal staffs high and remembering their ancestors. By this afternoon, they'll be in Denver, where they'll gather by "Wheel," an installation by Edgar Heap of Birds, outside the Denver Art Museum at 6 p.m. for a candlelight vigil.
And then tomorrow morning they'll be off again, meeting just after sunrise at Riverside Cemetery in north Denver, where Silas Soule is buried. He's the captain who refused to participate in the massacre, refused to have his men participate, and wrote a whistle-blowing letter to his former commander, Colonel Edward Wynkoop, to describe the atrocities he'd seen. He later repeated that testimony for congressional investigators who had no problem recognizing Chivington's action for what it was: a massacre. Chivington, who'd resigned his commission, was never punished; territorial governor John Evans was forced to resign.
From Riverside, the runners will head to 15th and Arapahoe streets, where a plaque marks the spot where Soule, then the acting provost marshal, was killed in April 1865 by supporters of Chivington. And from there, they will proceed to the State Capitol, where a century-old marker lists Sand Creek among the glorious battles of the Civil War. To the side is a plaque created two decades ago that sets the record straight about the massacre.
Starting at 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be more speeches, more ceremonies, more remembering.
Because even as Colorado and the tribes that fled this state look to the future, it's a dark chapter of Colorado history that we should never forget.
For more information on the run and related events, go to sandcreekmassacre150.com.
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